Students Who Are Reluctant to Participate in Class: How to Help?

When children take an active role in and participate in class discussions, it helps them consolidate their knowledge. Learn more.
Students Who Are Reluctant to Participate in Class: How to Help?
Sharon Capeluto

Written and verified by the psychologist Sharon Capeluto.

Last update: 11 March, 2023

In all classes, there are students who are eager to participate in class. They take an active role in the school day, have no problem expressing their point of view, and ask all the necessary questions to clear up their doubts. Therefore, they raise their hands at all times and don’t want to miss a single debate or discussion.

For other students, however, teachers are hardly aware of their voice. There are children who, for various reasons, choose not to participate in class. And this is detrimental to the learning process, as it’s much more difficult for teachers to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of these students. For this reason, encouraging children to participate in class is a point that every teacher should prioritize.

Why do some students choose not to participate in class?

Class participation is a relevant aspect that favors learning, as well as contributing to a pleasant and trusting classroom climate. However, for many children, it’s a huge challenge. These are some factors that could explain the lack of initiative in some students:

  • Shyness: There are students who would love to participate in class, but their shyness and withdrawal don’t allow them to do so. In fact, many times, children know the answers to the questions asked by teachers, but instead of sharing them with the rest of the group, they answer them in their head.
  • Disinterest: There are also students who don’t participate in class because they’re not interested in the subject or in school at all. In these cases, children tend to get bored and don’t care whether or not they take an active role during the course.
  • Not finding value in participation: On other occasions, children don’t get actively involved in class because they think it’s not necessary or that doing so won’t bring them anything valuable. Therefore, they prefer not to share their ideas with others because they’re focused only on grades.
  • Self-demand: Perfectionism and being self-demanding often leads kids to become inhibited in the classroom. The fear of making a mistake is such that they choose to remain silent.
  • Fear: When students perceive the classroom context as uncomfortable, threatening, or unpleasant, they have no desire to participate. In such a scenario, they’ll be afraid to expose their point of view and be judged, ridiculed, or punished.
A student who's afraid to participate in class because the teacher seems threatening.
If professionals force students to give their opinions or answer questions in class, children will feel much more insecure and become increasingly isolated rather than engaged.

Recommendations for encouraging students to participate in class

There’s much that teachers can do to help their students to feel encouraged to participate in class and thus consolidate their knowledge. As a first step, it’s essential to create a positive and enjoyable environment where all students can feel confident. To achieve this context, it’s also essential to convey to each of the children that what they have to say is important and that their questions have a place in the class.

Don’t impose

Forcing students to participate makes no sense and ends up having the opposite effect of what’s desired. In this regard, instead of demanding participation, it’s a good idea to take small and subtle actions so that children who don’t usually speak up are gradually encouraged to raise their voices. An interesting technique is to approach them progressively through complicit and smiling glances or affectionate, but not invasive, greetings.

Make playful proposals

Proposing games and playful activities is very useful. The objective is for the shyest or less communicative students to gain confidence and gain ground in the classroom in a relaxed, carefree, and even pleasant way. Playing games where there are no right or wrong answers may be more beneficial at the beginning, as students won’t feel pressure to get it right.

Don’t tolerate teasing among peers

No student should feel uncomfortable participating in class. Therefore, any teasing, taunting, or offensive comments among classmates should result in a warning from the teacher.

Occasionally, children ridicule each other and laugh at the attitudes, opinions, or responses of others. This shouldn’t be allowed in the classroom under any circumstances. The adult in charge of the classroom should be clear in prohibiting this type of manifestation, while promoting teamwork and fellowship.

Students ridiculing a classmate during class.
As a teacher, it’s essential to set firm limits regarding respect and empathy in the classroom. Therefore, you shouldn’t accept any kind of teasing that could affect a minor.

Offer alternatives

Remember that we’re all individual beings; Therefore, we don’t all need the same thing. Flexibility is one of the qualities that any good teacher should have. Children who find it difficult to participate in class can be offered different alternatives so that they can make their contributions without exposing themselves too much.

For example, the day before, we can anticipate the question we’ll ask them the next day or ask them if they prefer to give their answer orally or write it on the blackboard. The objective is that the student doesn’t experience participation as a moment of anxiety and nervousness, but rather the opposite. Therefore, little by little, they’ll strengthen their self-esteem and will be encouraged to participate more.

In order to encourage students to participate in class, mistakes must be naturalized

Error is a necessary condition for learning. It’s not a bad thing, nor something that should be avoided, but rather a tool. At school, children make mistakes every day, which helps them develop their skills.

In this regard, we believe that teachers should be the first figures to perceive mistakes as learning opportunities. If students feel that making a mistake is valid and that it doesn’t imply any kind of penalty, punishment, or mockery, participation will be much more active and fruitful.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Miguel-Dávila, JA.; López-Berzosa, D.; Martín-Sánchez, M. (2012). ¿Una participación activa del alumno pronostica una buena nota en el examen?. Documentos de trabajo sobre gestión de operaciones. 3(2):71-83. doi:10.4995/wpom.v3i2.1097.
  • Terrádez Gurrea, M. (2007). Profe, yo no quiero salir a la pizarra. Sobre tímidos, introvertidos y estilos de aprendizaje. Actas del I Congreso Internacional de Lengua, Literatura y Cultura Española, celebrado en Valencia, en 2007 / coord. por Jorge Martí Contreras, 2007, ISBN 84-611-8316-9, págs. 437-444.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.